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13.4: How Much Land Should We Protect?

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    As of mid-2019, there were just over 7,500 protected areas covering over 4.5 million km2 of land and ocean surface (UNEP-WCMC, 2019) scattered across Sub-Saharan Africa (Figure 13.4). The country with the largest number of protected areas is South Africa with over 1,500 protected areas, while the country with the largest total area under protection is Tanzania, with over 360,000 km2. While these statistics may seem impressive, seeing these numbers in perspective is important before performance is judged. Currently, one of the most prominent sets of targets used to measure conservation progress is laid out in the international Aichi Biodiversity Targets ( The global conservation area target reads:

    By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, … are conserved … and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.

    Figure 13.4 The location of Sub-Saharan Africa’s terrestrial and marine protected areas (MPAs), which falls under the IUCN’s categories I–VI classification for protected areas. Note that many small protected areas do not clearly show up at this scale. Source: UNEP-WCMC, 2019. Map by Johnny Wilson, CC BY 4.0.

    While Sub-Saharan Africa as a region is well on its way to achieving its goal of protecting 17% of terrestrial areas, the percentage of land protected is very uneven among countries.

    The good news is that as a region, Sub-Saharan Africa is well on its way to achieving the Aichi terrestrial target, since just under 17% of the region’s total land and inland water surfaces were protected as of mid-2019 (UNEP-WCMC, 2019). Further good news is that 22 Sub-Saharan African countries have protected more than 17% of their land area, with Seychelles (42%), Republic of the Congo (41%), and Tanzania (38%) leading the way. Sub-Saharan Africa’s protected areas network is also one the best performers globally in affording protection to migratory birds (Runge et al., 2015) and terrestrial megafauna (Lindsey et al., 2017).

    Despite this progress, some notable gaps remain. Foremost, the percentage of land protected is very uneven among countries. While a few countries have reached the Aichi protected areas target, there were also 10 countries with less than 5% of their land protected, and an additional six countries which protect less than 10%. Furthermore, the amount of land protected does not necessarily translate to adequate protection for all ecosystems (Watson et al., 2016). For example, despite having the most protected areas, South Africa protects only 8% of its land, well below the Aichi target. Many protected areas also qualify as paper parks (Tranquilli et al., 2012, 2014), with a questionable contribution towards achieving conservation goals.

    A neglected system: marine protected areas

    When thinking about conservation in Africa, many people’s minds will wander towards images of a charismatic terrestrial mammal, like an elephant, lion, or gorilla. But what about all the whales, dolphins, sea urchins, starfish, nudibranchs, and other wonderful marine creatures? Perhaps due to the outsized influence of Africa’s famous land mammals on the ecotourism sector, Africa’s marine conservation efforts have always lagged behind terrestrial conservation efforts. In total, just over 700,000 km2 (7%) of Sub-Saharan Africa’s marine environment is protected (UNEP-WCMC, 2019). The gaps in marine conservation are even more obvious when one considers that as of mid-2019, only six countries have achieved the 10% Aichi Target, with Gabon (29%) and St. Helena (28%) leading the way. Marine protection is particularly lacking along the Atlantic coast (Klein et al., 2015), where many of 15 coastal countries protect less than 1% of their coastal and oceanic waters. It is also worth keeping in mind that the 10% coverage target (a modest goal that many countries may fail to achieve), may not be enough to achieve key conservation and sustainable development goals (Spalding et al., 2008). For example, to reverse declining commercially important fish populations, it is estimated that as much as 30% of the marine environment may need to be protected (O’Leary et al., 2016).

    There is clearly an urgent need to establish more marine protected areas (MPAs), protected areas within oceanic and coastal environments (Box 13.3). There is also an urgent need to scale up law enforcement in the marine environment (Brashares et al., 2004). Increasing our marine protection efforts—which even local communities can initiate (Rocliffe et al., 2014)—is well worth it: it strengthens local fisheries (Kerwath et al., 2009; Lester et al. 2009) and offers educational and recreational opportunities, such as swimming and diving, which in turn generates ecotourism revenue. For example, Africa’ oldest MPA, Tsitsikamma National Park in South Africa (established in 1964), attracts over 170,000 visitors each year (Chadwick et al., 2014); the tourism revenues support numerous jobs and are a major stimulant of the local economy (Oberholzer et al., 2010). This is in stark contrast to the marine environment off West Africa, where unregulated fisheries are putting tremendous strain on local economies amid a lack of ecotourism infrastructure (Agnew et al., 2009; Gremillet et al., 2015).

    Box 13.3 Marine Protected Areas in East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean

    Abraham J. Miller-Rushing

    Acadia National Park, US National Park Service,

    Bar Harbor, ME, USA.

    How can MPAs in the Western Indian Ocean best enhance the preservation of biodiversity and the economies in this Global Biodiversity Hotspot? The ecosystems of the East African coast and nearby islands are diverse—mangrove forests, river deltas, coastal lagoons, rocky shores, sandy beaches, coral reefs, mud flats, seagrass beds, and open water. These areas are also economically important, with millions of people dependent on these waters’ shrimp, fish, and other natural resources for their livelihoods.

    How effective are these MPAs, both in protecting biodiversity and people’s livelihoods? In 2006, an assessment of eight MPAs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Seychelles found several shortcomings, including inadequacies in staffing, funding, stakeholder engagement, and articulation of goals and management practices. Also, there needed to be additional monitoring and research to inform management and policy (Hockings et al., 2006). Despite these faults, the abundance and size of fish increased dramatically in several MPAs within 10 years of implementing fishing restrictions (McClanahan et al., 2007). The size and quality of fish caught in surrounding fishing grounds also increased substantially, probably due to fish dispersing from the MPAs.

    Following these successes, the number and management of MPAs in the area have steadily increased and improved, at least, in part, due to cultivating better relationships with local stakeholders. One such example comes from the Quirimbas archipelago, just off the coast of northern Mozambique, where the Quirimbas National Park (over 1,000 km2) is managed through a cooperative effort of 40 villages, the government of Mozambique, and WWF. At the northern end of the Quirimbas archipelago, a few kilometres north of Quirimbas National Park, the Vamizi Conservation Project (Figure 13.D) protects an additional 230 km2 around the islands of Vamizi, Rongui and Macaloe. The Vamizi Project was initiated in 2002 as an innovative community-based management project involving local communities, international NGOs, and a group of individual investors. After protection, fish populations quickly began rebounding and had positive spill-over effects on fish around the reserve (da Silva et al., 2015). The stories of the abundant fish have contributed to a challenge for the project—attracting commercial fishermen from outside the area. To help ensure the financial and scientific sustainability of the project, partners developed a luxury ecotourism site and a research centre on Vamizi Island.

    Figure 13.D Vamizi Island has some of the world’s richest and most pristine coral reefs, as well as the last population of the grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos, NT) in Mozambique. The reefs are now protected thanks to a collaborative conservation effort that includes the local community. Photograph by Isabel Marques da Silva, CC BY 4.0.

    Other protected areas have met variable degrees of success, as conservation managers and communities in the region test different approaches and figure out how best to sustain MPAs in a challenging environment. Different approaches are likely to work in different situations, depending on availability of resources, local stakeholders, and other constraints. As MPAs in the region continue to develop, coordination among countries could improve the value of the MPAs to biodiversity conservation. Already there are examples of multiple pathways to improving and expanding MPAs to protect biodiversity and achieve sustainable fisheries in this region (McClanahan et al., 2016). The future is hopeful.

    This page titled 13.4: How Much Land Should We Protect? is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Wilson & Richard B. Primack (Open Book Publishers) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.